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Cubs’ Chris Volstad doomed by big inning in loss to Brewers

Chris Volstad allowed one run first five innings Saturday against Brewers but he was roughed up for five runs sixth.

Chris Volstad allowed one run in the first five innings Saturday against the Brewers, but he was roughed up for five runs in the sixth. | Morry Gash~AP

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Cubs at Brewers

The facts: 1:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.

The pitchers: Jeff Samardzija (4-1, 3.03 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (0-2, 4.50).

Updated: June 14, 2012 8:32AM

MILWAUKEE — The Cubs have no complaints about the distraction-free zone they created by dumping right-hander Carlos Zambrano — and more than an eighth of their payroll — on the Miami Marlins during the offseason.

Still, they were counting on at least some addition for all that subtraction when the Marlins sent back 6-8 right-hander Chris Volstad in all his sinker-slider glory.

But when another bad inning sent Volstad (0-5) to another loss Saturday, it assured the Cubs of their first losing series in three weeks, assured they would leave Milwaukee in last place in the National League Central and put Volstad’s rotation status in doubt.

With the 8-2 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park, Volstad’s winless streak reached a major-league-leading 18 starts. He hasn’t won since July 10 of last season.

‘‘It’s been really hard,’’ Volstad said, appearing to fight back emotions. ‘‘It’s frustrating, working my [rear end] off and not really having a lot to show for it. So . . . ’’

So what’s next?

The Cubs have been conspicuously deliberate in their actions and reactions during this season of evaluation and transition. Struggling players are getting longer leashes.

But as the season nears the quarter mark, Volstad might be running out of length on that leash when it comes to keeping his starting job.

‘‘Yeah, you’re going to consider it,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘There’s options. There’s things you can try and other people you can try. When that time comes, we don’t know.’’

This much is clear for now: The Cubs are 0-7 when Volstad starts. He has by far the highest ERA in the rotation at 6.92. And he has only one quality start.

‘‘Obviously, we’re all frustrated with the starts and the innings,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘The five shutout
innings and one big inning, we’re all frustrated with that and trying to get a grip on it. But six, seven starts in, we can’t get a grip on it.’’

In some ways, this has been the story of Volstad’s career. He has the kind of body and delivery evaluators love, with just enough stuff, velocity and command to tantalize. It’s why the Marlins drafted him in the first round in 2005 and why Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio seemed to rave about him more than anybody else early in spring training.

But four seasons and 109 starts into his big-league career, the breakout season many expected remains elusive. After debuting with a 6-4 record and 2.88 ERA in a half-season in 2008, he has gone 26-40 with a 5.03 ERA.

This also is the story of this Cubs season, part of a rebuilding process under new front-office leadership and a new field staff. Volstad is one of a handful of so-called ‘‘pre-prime players’’ under team control beyond this season, and he is being measured carefully.

Be it the result of mechanical issues when he goes into the stretch or something more mental that unravels in those big innings, Sveum is looking for changes now.

‘‘The slider got him in trouble again,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘That thing is something that we’ve got to work on because it’s a pitch he needs, but it’s getting hit too often and too hard.’’

It’s not just the slider, Volstad said. The grand slam the Brewers’ Edwin Maysonet hit with one out in the big sixth came on an 0-1 fastball.

‘‘It’s hard to pinpoint the difference,’’ Volstad said. ‘‘I’ve just got to keep working.’’

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